European Union Office in Kosovo 
European Union Special Representative in Kosovo

Apostolova: Rule of law is at the core of the SAA

19/09/2016 - 15:30
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Keynote Speech by Nataliya Apostolova, Head of EU Office in Kosovo/EU Special Representative at the GLPS conference “Progress of the Implementation of the SAA: Challenges of the European Agenda and Rule of Law Reforms”

Dear members of the European Integration Committee,

Dear representatives of civil society,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to be here today and commend the Assembly Committee and the Group for Legal and Political Studies for organising this public discussion on the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).

The SAA is significant both politically and economically. And its implementation is key.

It is the first comprehensive contract between the EU and Kosovo, and it confirms Kosovo's clear path on European integration.

It can be a turning point, a joint cause for all political parties to overcome differences, and reaffirm their commitment to European values. Your presence here confirms your commitment to Kosovo and its progress for which the Stabilisation and Association Agreement can be a very important tool, as well as your commitment to the European path of Kosovo of which the SAA is a stepping stone. It also confirms the unifying potential of the European agenda.

Equally important, if properly implemented, the agreement will bring concrete economic benefits to citizens, and change Kosovo society for the better. I hope today's event will bring us closer to understanding these benefits and the ways how to take the best advantage of them.

The agreement is a testimony that the EU and the EU Member States care and that there should be no doubt about our commitment to Kosovo and its progress.

We want to see Kosovo democracy and rule of law strengthened with a functioning Assembly, a zero tolerance to corruption and with all people being treated equally before the law and rule of law institutions.

Rule of law is at the core of the SAA. At the same time, rule of law presents one of the greatest challenges for Kosovo, with a number of recurring issues such as independence of judiciary, corruption, organised crime, transparency of certain economic and decision making processes.

These problems – if not addressed properly and with full engagement of all institutions – can hamper efforts to bring Kosovo closer to the EU.

In the coming period, the EU would like to see further improvements in the area of prevention and combating of corruption, especially with regard to 1) amending and adopting relevant legislation, 2) strengthening anti-corruption bodies, 3) adopting rules guaranteeing suspension and removal of those public officials indicted and convicted for corruption, 4) strengthening track record with regard to prosecution of high level corruption, including on investigations, final convictions and asset seizure, and 5) lawful and transparent appointment and nomination processes to management boards of public companies.

All these actions, if taken with due care and effort will undeniably contribute to a full and robust implementation of this agreement.

On the economic side, the key goal is enhancing Kosovo’s position in international trade, by helping to correct the current trade imbalance, through providing new opportunities for exports from Kosovo. The SAA is intended to place EU and Kosovo products (which meet EU quality standards) on a level playing field, giving most of Kosovo’s products unlimited access to the EU market. It will create conditions for attracting investments which can create jobs, and which will make better products available for citizens.

The SAA, however, is not an economic cure-all. Kosovo will still face serious economic challenges. Having this guaranteed access to EU markets will only bring full benefits if Kosovo’s range and quality of products improve to be as competitive as possible.

And, because nothing happens in isolation, these essential economic reforms go hand in hand with improving the state of democracy, rule of law and human rights, to fully benefit from the SAA.

The Assembly's role in these processes is irreplaceable, particularly in overseeing actions leading to the change which can be brought to to Kosovo.

And the implementation of the SAA will bring a number of changes. We already had the first meeting of a joint Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee in Pristina in May, involving members of the Kosovo Assembly, representing all political parties, and members of the European Parliament. We are at the final stage of setting up the remaining structures of the main SAA bodies, such as the SAA Council, Committee and Sub-Committees.

I invite the government and the opposition, as well as civil society, to cooperate in relation to the work of the SAA structures, to ensure that Kosovo's interests are represented at the best possible level and quality, and that work of the Council and the Committees enjoys nationwide support.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Instruments such as the SAA are the right tools to address Kosovo problems, implement needed reforms, and move Kosovo forward in its European path.

The Stabilisation and Association Agreement provides concrete instruments to improve the economy, create jobs, fight corruption, strengthen democracy and rule of law, and increase political and institutional stability. It is up to Kosovo to make it work for its citizens and for the benefit of its citizens. The more Kosovo implements the SAA, the closer its standards will be to those in the EU member states.

It is important to communicate this well to the people. A way to do it is to focus efforts and prioritise actions to be carried out in the short-term. In this regard, the European Reform Agenda (ERA), currently in the making, will be an important SAA implementation tool aimed at fully seizing the opportunities of the SAA as the main vehicle for advancing Kosovo's EU agenda.

The Assembly, with its institutional role and competences, can shape the quality of the legislation and the speed up the reforms required for implementation of the SAA.

I call on the Assembly and its European Integration Committee to engage seriously in the SAA implementation by (a) ensuring adoption of quality legislation in line with the EU aquis, by (b) regularly monitoring the implementation of that legislation and undertaking measures to address gaps and deficiencies identified, and by (c) timely appointing professional persons in all relevant institutions.

In this respect, the role of the opposition and civil society is crucial. Implementing the SAA calls for support from across the political spectrum, but also from civil society and other actors which have an important role to play in monitoring progress and keeping the political leaders to the account for the delivery.

Both the opposition and civil society need to be active, engaged and – if need be – critical voices and partners in ensuring the full and effective implementation of the Agreement.

To this effect, it is my intention to meet all members of the Assembly Committee for European Integration as well as representatives of civil society in a very near future.

I wish you success and thank you for your attention.

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